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Rubik’s Cube

This San Francisco home is an interlocked space which expands outward into the landscape of the area and creates an intimate experience.

LOCATION: San Francisco

Photo courtesy: Matthew Millman Photography

A young couple approached Studio VARA to design a new ground-up residence for their busy family of five on a prominent yet petite corner lot in Old Palo Alto. With a generous program and a limited allowable footprint, they challenged the designers to create a small, flexible home with a large presence.

Studio VARA is a San Francisco-based design practice driven by a deep commitment to architecture as a material craft and a discipline grounded in ideas. With the city as reference point and inspiration, they create holistic, well-considered design solutions and human-centered experiences at many scales.

They have developed a process-oriented approach that allows design solutions to arise organically from the unique ecology of each project. Clients are engaged throughout the design and construction process in a working environment attuned to their aspirations and infused with ease and clarity. Together, they work side-by-side with contractors and consultants to foster a truly team-oriented process. From the exterior form to the interior furnishings, this flexible, collaborative design approach builds trust and yields spaces that profoundly shapes clients’ lives.

To solve this puzzle, Studio VARA conceived of the house as a Rubik’s Cube of tightly interlocking spaces that expand outward into a landscape of intimate yet generous outdoor rooms. To break up the massing and achieve lightness within a compact, rectilinear envelope, they used distinct materials to articulate three stacked volumes that shift and recede from sight as they move up: concrete for the basement, wood at the main level, and dark zinc for the top floor. The main level is lifted slightly above grade, allowing deep light wells to penetrate underground and provide light and air to a full basement. Carefully considered window placement adds ornament and rhythm to the façade.

Inside, sumptuous materials and sophisticated detailing make the home feel large and luxurious. Uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling glass walls allow the outdoors and daylight to penetrate the house and maximize sightlines to achieve a feeling of spaciousness. Elegant, carefully considered cabinetry and built-ins in the kitchen and entertaining areas on the main level ensure that the open plan does not feel loft-like. A sculptural steel stair set against a continuous stone-slab wall anchors the entire house and unifies the three levels. Upstairs, the master suite and bedrooms are strategically organized to ensure privacy and views outside.

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